The Yakuza

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This article is about the 1974 film. For other uses, see Yakuza (disambiguation).
The Yakuza
The Yakuza 1975 poster.jpg
1975 US theatrical poster
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Produced by Michael Hamilburg
Sydney Pollack
Koji Shundo
Written by Leonard Schrader
Paul Schrader
Robert Towne
Starring Robert Mitchum
Ken Takakura
Kishi Keiko
Richard Jordan
Music by Dave Grusin
Edited by Don Guidice
Thomas Stanford
Fredric Steinkamp (supervising)
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
December 28, 1974 (Japan)
March 15, 1975 (US)
Running time
123 minutes (Japan)
112 minutes (US)[1]
Country United States
Language English / Japanese

The Yakuza is a 1974 neo-noir gangster film directed by Sydney Pollack, written by Leonard Schrader, Paul Schrader, and Robert Towne. The film is about a man who returns to Japan after several years away in order to rescue his friend's kidnapped daughter. Following a lackluster initial release, the film has since gained a cult following.


Retired detective Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) is called upon by an old friend, George Tanner (Brian Keith). Tanner has been doing business with a yakuza gangster, Tono (Eiji Okada), who has taken Tanner's daughter and her boyfriend hostage to apply pressure in a business deal involving the sale of guns. Tanner hopes that Kilmer can locate and rescue the girl using his Japanese connections.

Tanner and Kilmer had been Marine MPs and friends in Tokyo during the post-war occupation. Kilmer had fallen in love with a local woman, Eiko (Keiko Kishi), who was involved in the black market. When her young daughter fell ill, Kilmer helped Eiko find penicillin for the child, saving her life. After they'd been living with each other, Eiko's brother Ken (Ken Takakura) returned from an island where he'd been stranded as an Imperial Japanese soldier. Both outraged that his sister was living with his former enemy and deeply indebted to Kilmer for saving the lives of his (apparently) only remaining family, he disappeared into the yakuza criminal underground and refused to see or speak to his sister. Kilmer repeatedly asked Eiko to marry him but she consistently refused. Then and since, Eiko has been cautious to do nothing to offend her brother further. As a parting gift, Kilmer bought Eiko the bar (with five thousand dollars he borrowed from George Tanner) which she operates to this day. They parted, neither of them falling in love or marrying since.

Traveling to Tokyo with Tanner's bodyguard Dusty (Richard Jordan), they stay at the home of another old military buddy named Oliver Wheat (Herb Edelman). Kilmer visits Eiko at her coffeehouse at closing time; seeing her once again, it is clear Kilmer still loves her deeply and again proposes. Eiko tells Kilmer that her brother can be found at his kendo school. Ken's debt to Kilmer, giri, is a lifelong debt that traditionally can never be repaid. Ken would therefore, Tanner insists, do anything for Kilmer. Traveling to Kyoto, Kilmer visits him at his Kendo school. Ken tells Kilmer he is no longer a Yakuza member, but will still help, out of his obligation. Ken's animosity towards Kilmer is clear, but together they find and free the girl and her beau. In so doing, Ken "takes up the sword" once again, injures one of Tono's men, and is discovered by one of the gangster's lieutenants. This is an inexcusable intrusion by Ken in yakuza affairs. Contracts on both Ken and Kilmer's lives are issued. Kilmer resists leaving until the danger to Ken can be resolved. Eiko suggests that he talk to Ken's brother, a high level legal counselor to the yakuza chiefs whom Kilmer hadn't known about. Goro (James Shigeta) is unable to intercede due to his impartial role in yakuza society, but suggests that Ken can remove the death threat by killing Tono with a sword. The only alternative is for Kilmer to kill Tono.

Guilt-ridden that once again he's interfered with Eiko's family and also endangered Ken, Kilmer stays in Tokyo. After a failed attempt on Kilmer's life in a bath house, he learns that his old friend Tanner has taken out the contract on him. Despite appearances, Tanner and Tono are well-acquainted and successful business partners. During an attack on Ken and Kilmer in Oliver Wheat's house, Dusty is killed with a sword and Eiko's daughter, Hanako, is shot and killed. Both men are crushed by the tragic loss of Hanako.

Seeking advice again from Ken's brother, Goro advises them that they have no choice but to assassinate Tanner and Tono. This will embarrass the partners in the eyes of the yakuza and restore Ken's honor. Goro discloses that he has a "wayward son" who has joined Tono's clan and asks that Ken spare him should he be caught in the battle. The son has a distinctive spider tattoo on his head. Ken vows that the son will not be harmed. In private, Goro then discloses a shocking family secret to Kilmer: Eiko is not Ken's sister, she is his wife, and Hanako was their only child. Hearing this, Kilmer realizes the true meaning of Eiko and Ken's rift, and Ken's anguish at the death of Hanako, all brought about by his presence in their lives.

Kilmer finds and kills Tanner, then joins Ken for a near-suicidal attack on Tono's residence. During a tense, prolonged battle, in which Ken kills Tono in the traditional way with a katana, Goro's son attacks them and Ken is forced to kill him in self-defense. Bearing the news to his brother, Ken moves to commit Seppuku, but his brother forbids it. Instead, Ken performs yubitsume (the ceremonial yakuza apology by cutting off one's little finger). After Ken excuses himself, Goro talks with Kilmer, and compliments him on his adherence to Japanese traditions, surprising for a gaijin.

As Kilmer is riding in a taxi to the airport to leave Japan, he is visibly troubled and decides to go back and visit Ken one last time and asks to speak to him formally. While Ken prepares tea, Kilmer quietly commits yubitsume, and when Ken enters the room, waits for him to be seated. Sliding the folded handkerchief that contains his finger to Ken, he says "please accept this token of my apology," exactly the same words that Ken used when he presented his finger to Goro. Then, Kilmer apologizes for "bringing great pain into your life, both in the past and in the present." He humbly requests that "if you can forgive me, then you can forgive Eiko." Accepting the apology, Ken professes that "no man has a greater friend than Kilmer-san," and Kilmer reciprocates. Parting at the airport, both men bow deeply to each other.



The Yakuza portrays the clash of traditional Japanese values during Japan's transition from the US occupation to economic success in the early 1970s. The story's themes include moral indebtedness and obligation, loyalty to family and friends, and sacrifice. The film contrasts Eastern and Western cultural values, and classical Japanese tradition with the modern, Westernized, trends of contemporary Japan. It also broke with the then Hollywood aversion to giving full roles to nonwhite actors by casting Ken Takakura as a pivotal character.


Warner Bros. paid Paul and Leonard Schrader the then-record sum of US$325,000.00 for their début story, which proved Paul's entrée into Hollywood, where he later became well known for the screenplays he wrote for the Martin Scorsese films Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980), as well as for his work as director on films such as Blue Collar, Hardcore, American Gigolo and Mishima.

Leonard Schrader later worked on many other film projects, including writing the screenplay for Kiss of the Spider Woman, which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Originally, Robert Aldrich was to be the film's director, but Robert Mitchum, who had worked with Aldrich on the The Angry Hills (1959), had Sydney Pollack replace him. Robert Towne was asked by Pollack to perform rewrites on the Schraders' script.[2]


The Yakuza
Soundtrack album by Dave Grusin
Released July 2005
Length 01:10:22
Label Film Score Monthly
Producer Lukas Kendall
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic[3] 4.5/5 stars

The musical score for The Yakuza was composed by David Grusin. The score applies both Western and Eastern musical influences in what director Sydney Pollack described as a way that "felt and sounded Japanese without being too strange for western ears."[4] A soundtrack album was released by Film Score Monthly in July 2005.[5]

Track listing
  1. "Prologue" 2:42
  2. "Main Title" 3:17
  3. "Samurai Source" 2:03
  4. "Tokyo Return" 1:29
  5. "20 Year Montage" 3:28
  6. "Scrapbook Montage / Scrapbook Epilogue" 2:13
  7. "Kendo Sword Ritual / Alter Ego / Night Rescue / Amputation / Amputation (alternate)" 3:19
  8. "Man Who Never Smiles" 1:49
  9. "Tanner to Tono / Tono Bridge / The Bath" 2:27
  10. "Girl and Tea" 1:36
  11. "Pavane" 1:10
  12. "Get Tanner" 1:40
  13. "Breather / Final Assault" 4:43
  14. "The Big Fight" 5:51
  15. "No Secrets" 1:32
  16. "Sayonara" 2:02
  17. "Apologies" 2:09
  18. "Bows / End Title (Coda)" 1:46
  19. "Shine On" 9:47
  20. "Bluesy Combo" 6:20
  21. "20 Year Montage / Scrapbook Montage (film mix)" 5:00
  22. "End Title (film version)" 1:10
  23. "Only the Wind" 2:50


The film received mixed reviews at the time of release and had a lackluster performance at the box office. It currently holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 10 reviews.[6] However, since its release it has gained a small but dedicated cult following.

Roger Ebert gave the film a mixed review, awarding it two-and-a-half stars out of four. While praising the characterization and the performances of Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura, he criticized the plot as being somewhat difficult to follow and expressed concern over the level of violence: "it's for audiences that have grown accustomed over the last few years to buckets of blood, disembowelments and severed hands flying through the air. It's very violent, and the fact that the violence has been choreographed by a skilled director (Sidney Pollack, who made "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?") just makes it all the more extreme."[7]

Home media[edit]

The Region One DVD of The Yakuza was released by Warner Bros. on January 23, 2007.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Yakuza at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ Lemmon, Elaine (October 2005). "The Question of Authorship: The Yakuza". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 2009-07-16. [dead link]
  3. ^ Eder, Bruce. "The Yakuza [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]". AllMusic. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Music for the Screen: The Yakuza". The Dave Grusin Archive. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Film Score Monthly CD: Yakuza, The". Film Score Monthly. July 2005. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  6. ^ "The Yakuza". 19 March 1975. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  7. ^ Roger Ebert (1 January 1975). "The Yakuza". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 

External links[edit]